Writer: Kevin Elyot
Director: Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Written 36 years ago and feeling as if it were written last summer by a sharp young observer of today’s relationship trends, Coming Clean proves that an insight is timeless.
Spreadbury-Maher’s production comes to the West End stage from a successful run at the King’s Heat in Islington. Each venue allows us to get right in close so we’re able to forensically examine the set of relationships as they twist between four men. It can get a bit uncomfortable at times – Lee Knight and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as Tony and Greg interact so well it feels like actual voyeurism from which we can’t escape.
The story is split into two parts with the second half taking place four months after the first. Tired of being taken for granted and treated as a housewife, Tony hires Robert as a cleaner. He is the latest addition to Tony’s seemingly small world of nighttime discos and semi-successful cruising with his friend William, and his nearly stable home life with partner of five years, university lecturer Greg. Cracks have started to appear in both sides of this life, but with Robert’s addition, things come to a head.
Over the course of a two-hour play-time (with an interval) Elyot and Spreadbury-Maher expertly ratchet up the tension, steadily through the first half before some emotional pugilism to really finish with a vigour.
The characters are drawn so well, and played with such verve, that each could be the subject of a full individual play. William’s (played by Elliot Hadley) would be the most fun, of course – full of screaming innuendo and dirty stories as well as huge bravery in the face of a society that rebels against him. Tony’s (Lee Knight) could educate us about a rich emotional life in someone who craves normality but feels duty bound to act out. Robert’s (Tom Lambert making an assured West-End debit) would tell us what it’s like going from nervous country-boy to cocky and cock-sure city swinger, coming of age in a turbulent (or, if you prefer, still just plain dangerous) time for the UK’s gay LGBT community.
Greg’s would be the most interesting. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge’s character is not likable – sour and moody, snapping at everyone and openly aggressive to everyone (at least, in the first half). He’s conflicted, real and weighty. He’s the one who makes you think and question – is he selfish, or is his honesty a force for good. The philosophy of the play, the discussion about honesty and love is channeled through him and so while he probably has least amount of lines in the play, he’s the one to listen to.
It’s all wrapped up in a beautifully detailed design from Amanda Mascarenhas who creates Tony and Gregg’s sitting room as the one location for all the action – down to the period packaging for Alka-Seltzer. The musical backing is a smash thanks to Yvonne Gilbert – serious tunes alongside classical pieces which reflect this tension between an internal and external life.
Overall, just a thoroughly interesting and entertaining production. Tremendously funny at times and brutal at others. Elyot’s quippy turns of phrase are fired out without a dud in the bunch – putting the seal on a superb production.
Runs until 2 February 2019 | Image: Scott Rylander